One of the most ubiquitous industries of today, footwear has transformed from a simple necessity to a fashion statement, with there now being close to 2,500 stores worldwide operated by Nike and Adidas, with the former selling 25 pairs of shoes a second in 2016.
However, all of this growth is not without a cost; the production of one pair of shoes, which constitutes about two thirds of all emissions related to shoes, emits on average 28kg of CO2, enough to power a 100-watt lightbulb for 2 weeks. These emissions are contributing to climate change and global warming, which is regarded as one of the major threats to subsequent generations.
Furthermore, the materials used during shoe production are far from beneficial to the places and people which produce them; toxic glues, along with the proven carcinogen chromium can leach into water and soil due to being dumped instead of disposed of. Once the shoes reach the consumer, the cyclical nature of fashion trends and staggering choice of products has led to more shoes being thown away than ever; in the US approximately 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away each year, most of them ending up in landfill, where they take on average 50 years to decompose, if they do at all.
However, all is not lost. Big brands like Nike and Adidas are rolling out increasingly sustainable and environmentally conscious options for their customers, such as the Adidas X Parley collection, which sees trainers made from upcycled plastic from the oceans. Nike have been stepping up too; even implementing a reuse-a-shoe scheme that recycles any athletic shoe at their stores across North America and Europe. Furthermore, their VaporMax Air sole contains over 75% recycled material, and doesn’t require a foam mid-sole; whilst their Flyleather range reclaims discarded leather fibres and uses them, thus having half the carbon footprint of regular leather.
And it isn’t just the big brands who are trailblazing. Smaller brands like Ananas Anam and Po-Zu are making huge advances, paving the way for vegan leather through using materials such as PiñaTex (pineapple leather) and coir (coconut husk). Perhaps even more encouraging is that large brands and franchises such as Star Wars and Puma are collaborating with these brands, thus pushing sustainable footwear towards a wider range of people and not just environmentalists.
However, with the footwear industry estimated to be worth £280 billion by 2020, it is crucial that the larger companies who hold the monopoly on the market continue to promote sustainable and recyclable footwear. It is also important that ethical materials and processes become cheaper and more accessible, so that reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t become dependent on income.